By: Rob Saphr, NJ.com
Brookdale Community College’s Board of Trustees voted to reduce the school’s workforce by 47 jobs during a heated meeting Thursday night.
College president Maureen Murphy initially introduced a plan in October to cut 51 staff positions as part of restructuring plan to help stop the college from dipping into its reserves to close budget shortfalls caused by decreasing funding from the state and county and from declining tuition revenue.
Brookdale has lost nearly $14.7 million in the past three years because of a $393,000 reduction in state aid, $9.4 million in county aid and $5.7 million in tuition, Murphy said.
Board trustee Joseph DiBella, the chair of the school’s Finance and Facilities Committee, said the popular suggestion to raise tuition in order to save the jobs would require tuition to be increased by $15 a credit, thus raising the cost for the average full-time student to attend Brookdale by $600 annually in terms of tuition and fees.
“That’s not practical, that’s not fair. It would drive down enrollment and it would cripple Brookdale,” said DiBella, adding the college does need to come up with a tuition increase plan but that it would have to be discussed and implemented over time.
Murphy’s plan, which was preliminarily approved by the Board of Trustees last month, also recommended privatizing the children’s learning center, closing the newly relocated fitness center, and eliminating the college’s television stations.
However, after considering public feedback, the Board announced Thursday night that the children’s learning center, fitness center and television station would remain in operation, for now, and that the number of jobs being eliminated would be reduced to 47.
After about two hours of emotional public comment on the plan, the Board approved the modified plan by a 12-1 vote. Board trustee Lora Campbell was the only vote in opposition, citing a need for more research into the process to take place, which earned her a standing ovation from the room full of faculty, staff and students.
“We have made this decision after much thought. We regret that it is necessary. But it is, we feel, necessary,” Board Chairman Carl Guzzo, Jr. read in a prepared statement. “As a board, we are entrusted with ensuring that the college is well positioned to align its resources behind our current fiscal reality and to plan for the future. We simply have to do something about the deficit.”
Throughout most of the evening, members of the crowd were calling out and talking through their allotted two-minute comment opportunities.
“I’m prepared to get arrested tonight, I’m serious about this,” Brookdale professor Barbara Gonos told Guzzo after he used the gavel to mark the end of her allotted comment period, during which she said the all-white and mostly male board did not appropriately consider the affirmative action impact of the RIF.
Gonos then raised her hands and repeatedly said: “Don’t shoot,” a reference to the Michael Brown controversy, while attempting to continue on with her planned comments.
Jim Crowder, the president of Brookdale’s Faculty Association, asked the board to put the RIF away and to work with association on other solutions to develop a model to serve the students that would still reduce costs.
“I’d rather the college spend less money on attorneys and more money on students,” he said.
One of the most scathing comments from the public came from Monmouth County Freeholder John Curly, a former Brookdale student, who said he supported revamping the college but wanted to see Brookdale “maintain itself.”
“I have not had a great deal of communication with this college. I am you’re liaison,” said Curley, adding he has depended on the media to find out what’s happening at Brookdale. “That is wrong. The Board of Freeholders provides to you 24 percent of your budget and we deserve the respect of contact.”
Curley, who also sits on the college’s Board of School Estimate with Freeholders Lillian Burry and Serena DiMaso, again suggested that the school raise its tuition.
“I will put my political career on the line tonight,” he said. “If you bring forward a $15 increase per credit of tuition and send me two board members who will vote for it, I will do my best to get FreeholderBurry and Freeholder DiMaso to support that.”